A year ago, I remained in India for a week as the students of YMAD returned home. Originally my intentions were to stay and film stock footage of India, but as I struggled with our work and our efforts to make a difference in Chamba, I began to sense for the first time, that although we called the children of Chamba , “the poorest of the poor,” that perhaps that was not the reality.
I asked Rakesh and he said, in his usual way, “oh no Steve, these are not the poorest of the poor.”
It was at that moment I began to want to see those whom he said truly were and to see an organization who was making a difference working with them.
Rakesh told me of a place near Calcutta and an organization called Nishtha. After spending a few days in Varanasi, I traveled to the jungle villages of West Bengal. From my first moments in Nishtha, I understood that there was something special. Something about both the people and the place and I immediately fell in love with the young girl who showed me around, [Mimi] and her Aunt [Mina] who soon was calling me brother.
Almost immediately they began asking if YMAD could please bring over students.
During my first meeting I explained why I had come and that although I had been here in India with a group called YMAD that I could not promise them anything in the name of that organization. I explained that I was here because I had heard of their work and because was interested in seeing what they were doing.
As I traveled to each village and met the women and children I uncharacteristically asked if I couldn’t stand and say a few words to the assembled group and for the first in my life the words which so often seem to fail me when I speak publicly seemed to flow from my mouth. When I left each meeting the emotions of what took place overwhelmed me.
The trips to the villages culminated with the meeting of the grannies. I struggled to hear their stories, stories of pain and sorrow and heartbreak. I told them about my wife and four daughters and about my grandmothers who I loved very much. And then I told them that if they didn’t have a family that loved them, that I could be their american grandson, and that they could be my Indian grandmothers.
I then told them how americans often give hugs to those they love and that I would love to give each of them a hug. The response was both heartbreaking and unforgettable, for I saw in them a group of people who had seen too little of love, too little of kindness. As I have often quoted Paul McCartney, they have seen, “too much rain”
In the following months, I spoke little about my trip as it seemed I could never find the words or the opportunity to completely explain what had taken place and in my heart I doubted YMAD would ever take students to Nishtha. They were invested in Chamba and the North. Then suddenly, almost miraculously things began to change, first Robert decided to travel to West Bengal and then he invited Mimi and Manami to Salt Lake and then almost over night YMAD was on it’s way to Nishtha.
In some ways it seems as if God has stepped in and destined it all to happen and this from a guy who has so often doubted even the very existence of God. As Paul Hanks said in the movie Angels and Demons, “if faith is a gift, then it is one God has not yet granted me.” And yet having witnessed what has transpired during the last year, perhaps there is hope.
What I couldn’t say a year ago, was that coming here with a group from YMAD was my dream and now it is dream come true.